AMD processors are very popular with budget PC vendors, offering excellent performance at a low price. Arbico's Phenom 5524 GT uses a fast-clocked 3.1GHz Phenom II X2 550 chip, but its performance in our tests falls short of the Intel chips.

AMD processors are very popular with budget PC vendors, offering excellent performance at a low price. Arbico's Phenom 5524 GT uses a fast-clocked 3.1GHz Phenom II X2 550 chip, but its performance in our tests falls short of the Intel chips.

However, although it's some way off the 123-point tally scored by our Best Buy machine, the Arbico Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC's 115-point WorldBench 6 rating demonstrates a turn of speed that's more than adequate for most users. And it's slightly faster than the Intel-powered Chillblast.

As with all the machines in our round-up, Arbico supplies 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive with its Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC. Unfortunately, the former is of the slower DDR2 variety.

Also in common with the other AMD machines on test, the Arbico Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC uses an Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard. Unsurprisingly, the three PCs perform almost identically.

A 19in (1440x900) Digimate display is provided, offering more workspace than the 18.5in models often provided at this price point. Its 16:10 aspect ratio doesn't quite match the 16:9 format of an HDTV, so you'll get a letterbox effect when viewing such content. You'll also have to put up with poor sound quality, since the Arbico Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC is supplied without external speakers.

The Arbico Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC's GT 240 graphics card is capable of playing older games such as Fear, and even demanding titles such as Crysis when you drop the settings a notch. But while it's faster than some of the ATI graphics cards here, it doesn't support DirectX 11.0.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19
  2. Chillblast Fusion Vortex
  3. Eclipse Quantum a55r575
  4. CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT
  5. Arbico Phenom 5524 GT

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

AMD processors are very popular with budget PC vendors, offering excellent performance at a low price. Arbico's Phenom 5524 GT uses a fast-clocked 3.1GHz Phenom II X2 550 chip, but its performance in our tests falls short of the Intel chips.

Buying advice

Processor: AMD's Phenom II X2 550 is a great choice of CPU for a budget PC. You can also now find quad-core CPUs in this price range from both AMD and Intel. The AMD Athlon X4 630 and Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 are good examples.

The Core 2 Duo E8500 is still a good choice if you have no interest in gaming and want to spend your money on fast general-purpose performance. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

Memory: In the post-Vista era, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Some CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while others can use either this or DDR2. DDR3 memory is getting cheaper now, and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Expect up to 500GB at this price; you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized drive. Hard-drive space is easy to add later, however.

If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, ensure that you've got spare drive bays inside your PC's case.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the KR formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to get 8.5GB on to one disc, get a drive that can write to dual-layer discs (+/-R DL) at 12- and eight-speed respectively.

Flat-panel: It's the component you'll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.

All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. The most common size is 18.5in - the quality of larger monitors is unlikely to be good at this price. Look for a monitor with a DVI or HDMI digital connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one, too.

If display size or quality is of critical importance to you - and you're willing to cut costs elsewhere - you may be able to get a 22in 1080p flat-panel.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. However, decent graphics cards get cheaper all the time, and budget PCs can now handle games that were unthinkable a few months ago.

ATI's HD 5670 is a popular choice for a budget PC, but if you shop around you may be able to find an HD 5850. This will give you better performance, but may require compromises elsewhere.

For nVidia and ATI cards, look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version. And if you don't play games, consider a PC that relies on integrated graphics.

Intel's Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older integrated solutions. Such a PC won't be up to most games, but it will support HD video and Windows 7's Aero effects.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components installed, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point. Most motherboards can handle six-channel sound.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico Phenom 5524 GT: Specs

  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 650W WinPower PSU
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Digimate L-1935WD (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 1GB Zotac nVidia GeForce GT 240 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 42/12fps
  • Fear = 89fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115
  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 650W WinPower PSU
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Digimate L-1935WD (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 1GB Zotac nVidia GeForce GT 240 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 42/12fps
  • Fear = 89fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115

OUR VERDICT

Fitted in a smart and compact EZCool MA661 case, the Arbico Phenom 5524 GT desktop PC offers good performance, a decent monitor and usable graphics capabilities. But it's outclassed in this regard by both the Eclipse and CyberPower systems.

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